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Hogan v. Lee

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

January 24, 2014



MICHAEL P. MILLS, Chief District Judge.

Petitioner William Joseph Hogan, Mississippi prisoner no. 151816, has filed a pro se federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his State court conviction for murder. Having considered the submission of the parties, the State court record, and the law applicable to Hogan's claims, the Court finds that the petition should be denied, for the reasons that follow.

Background Facts and Procedural History

William Hogan and Wendy Threatt had been married almost a year when Hogan fatally shot Wendy on Wednesday, August 27, 2008. The previous Saturday night, Wendy went out with co-workers and did not return home until Sunday afternoon. Hogan spent several days obsessing over where Wendy had been and what she had been doing. Wendy had been unfaithful to Hogan when they dated, and Hogan had threatened to kill her if she was ever unfaithful to him again. He suspected that Wendy had again been unfaithful, and for the next several days, she attempted to evade his questions about Saturday night. On Wednesday, while Hogan was at work, he and Wendy had a heated phone conversation. Afterwards, he told a co-worker who overheard the conversation that he was going to jail because he was going to shoot his wife.

That evening, Hogan and Wendy were in their bedroom and began discussing Saturday night. Wendy confessed that she had gone to a bar, where she flirted and danced with men. She confessed that she had charmed one man into allowing her to wear his cowboy hat. Hogan testified he "saw red" and "lost it" upon hearing Wendy's confession. He stated that he shot her in the face multiple times with a pistol he kept in the nightstand. Wendy's three children were in the house, so Hogan unloaded the pistol before returning it to the nightstand. He left the bedroom, closed the door, and told the children not to enter the room. He then called 911, telling the operator that he had just shot his wife.

Hogan pleaded not guilty to murder at his August 2009 trial. At trial, he called neuropsychiatrist psychiatrist Dr. Wood Hiatt, who opined that Hogan was temporarily insane at the time of the shooting. Dr. Hiatt noted that, two decades prior, Hogan had been badly injured when he pulled the pin on a live hand grenade and was hit by shrapnel. Over time, the shrapnel destroyed his liver, which required him to have a transplant. After the transplant, Hogan suffered anxiety and depression that resulted in a temporary hospitalization. He did not continue his treatment of medication or therapy upon discharge, and he began dating Wendy about a year after his release from the hospital. In rebuttal, the State called Dr. Criss Lott, who testified that Hogan knew the difference between right and wrong when he killed Wendy. The jury also heard testimony from Hogan's co-worker who testified that Hogan said that he was going to shoot his wife just hours before her death.

The trial court instructed the jury on both deliberate-design murder and the lesser-included offense of manslaughter. Hogan was convicted of murder in the Circuit Court of DeSoto County, Mississippi, and sentenced to serve life in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. (SCR vol. 2, 203-04). He appealed his conviction and sentence to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which assigned the case to the Mississippi Court of Appeals. The Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed Hogan's conviction and sentence. ( See Answer, Ex. A); see also Hogan v. State, 89 So.3d 36 (Miss. Ct. App. 2011), reh'g denied January 24, 2012, cert. denied May 24, 2012 (Cause No. 2010-KA-00345-COA).

Aggrieved of this decision, Hogan filed a pro se application with the Mississippi Supreme Court seeking permission to proceed in the trial court with a motion for post-conviction collateral relief. The Mississippi Supreme Court denied Hogan's application by order entered September 18, 2013. ( See Answer, Ex. B).

On or about October 11, 2013, Hogan filed the instant federal habeas petition raising the following grounds for relief:

I. Evidence was insufficient to support the conviction of deliberate design murder.

II. Trial court erred in not granting new trial because the overwhelming weight of the evidence did not establish murder.

III. Ineffective assistance of counsel during voir dire and the impaneling of the jury.

IV. Ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel in failure to object to prosecutorial misconduct.

V. Ineffective assistance of counsel in failure to object to instructions that failed to adequately instruct on the law.

VI. The cumulative error of trial counsel's ineffectiveness denied Hogan his due process right to a fair trial.

Legal Standard

The Court's review of Hogan's claims is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), because his federal habeas petition was filed after the statute's effective date. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997). The AEDPA prevents the grant of federal habeas relief on any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless that adjudication (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established United States Supreme Court precedent; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the presented evidence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) & (2); Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007).

A state court's decision is "contrary to" Supreme Court law if (1) "the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases, " or (2) "if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [its] precedent." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). The "unreasonable application" clause is reserved for decisions that either fail to identify the correct governing law, or identify the correct governing law but misapply it to the case. Id. at 407. Under this standard, a state court's decision will not warrant federal habeas relief unless its application of federal law is both incorrect and unreasonable. Garcia v. Dretke, 388 F.3d 496, 500 (5th Cir. 2004) (emphasis in original) (citation omitted). A reviewing habeas court considers only the state court's conclusion when determining whether there has been an unreasonable application of federal law, not the court's reasoning in reaching the decision. Neal v. Puckett, 286 F.3d 230, 246 (5th Cir. 2002).

Additionally, a state court's factual determinations are presumed correct unless rebutted by "clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Jackson v. Anderson, 112 F.3d 823, 824-25 (5th Cir. 1997).


I. Sufficiency & Weight of the Evidence (Grounds One and Two)

Hogan claims that the evidence offered against him at trial was insufficient to support a verdict of guilty of deliberate design murder, and that the overwhelming weight of the evidence did not establish murder. He argues that there was no evidence that he planned to kill his wife, and that Dr. Hiatt's testimony establishes that he was insane at the time of the crime.

On August 27, 2008, the Horn Lake Police Department received a 911 call from Hogan, and the tape of that call was admitted into evidence and played for the jury at Hogan's trial. (SCR vol. 3, 121, 135-36). Lieutenant Scott Worsham of the Horn Lake Police Department responded to the call and testified that Hogan was sitting on the tailgate of his truck when Worsham arrived on the scene. ( Id. at 136). He testified that Hogan appeared calm and stated that his wife was in the bedroom. ( Id. at 138). Officers found Wendy's body in the couple's bed. ( Id. at 141-42). She had multiple gunshot wounds to her face. ( Id. ). Officers located the weapon in the nightstand, where Hogan stated it would be found. ( Id. ). Later, law enforcement determined that there were "eight holes in the face" of the victim. (SCR vol. 4, 172).

Hogan provided a statement to police, and Detective Roger Hutchins, the lead investigator on the case, testified that the "incident" began on Sunday and reached its resolution on Wednesday, when Hogan shot Wendy in response to something she said or some reason she gave him. (SCR vol. 4, 219). He noted that the body was found in a position that suggested she had been relaxed at the time of the shooting. ( Id. at 208). He also testified that the gunshot wounds were in close proximity to each other, observing that it is necessary to re-aim after shooting a firearm in order to maintain accuracy. ( Id. at 208-10).

David Dixon, who had been training Hogan for a job, testified that he was with Hogan on the day of the murder, and that Hogan fought with his wife over the phone during the course of the day. (SCR vol. 3, 146, 148). He testified that "Hogan was turning red, you know, and then he started hollering stuff and slammed the phone and looked over at me and says, I'm going to jail ...

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